In the old Hundred of West Derby in what was once Lancashire (them there political types shifting boundaries for their own greasy deeds) still remains to this day the trickling remains of old Oswald’s sacred spring, close to the Hermitage Green, which is thought to have gained its named after just such a hermit living hereby and who, no doubt, frequented or looked after this holy well for both refreshment and spiritual sustenance.
Named after the once-pagan King of Northumbria — who was later patronized and regressed to the cultus of a saint — the well was said to be close to an ancient palace, which was later moved when the King regressed into christendom. The well itself was said to have been created through the tradition that the very Earth here possessed healing powers so renowned that people came from many miles to collect and take it for its sacred and medicinal qualities. In Henry Taylor’s (1906) magnum opus he told:
“A writer in The Antiquary twenty years ago (vol.3, p.261) described it as having a very modest appearance for so famous a spot, looking merely like a hole into the hillside. The writer goes on to say, “Passing through a small cottage garden, a well-trodden path leads to the well, which is merely a fosse, as described by Bede, and, situated as it is at the bottom of a tolerable declivity, derives its supply from the drainage of the upper ground rather than from any spring. The water is not very bright, but the well is substantially walled inside, and two or three deeply worn steps lead to the water.”
“The Venerable Bede gives an account of numerous miracles which took place at St. Oswald’s Well. He says: “After which period Oswald was killed in a great battle by the same Pagan nation and Pagan King of the Mercians who had slain his predecessor Edwin at a place called in the English tongue Maserfield in the 38th year of his age on the 5th day of the month of August. How great his faith was towards God, and how remarkable his devotion, has been made evident by miracles since his death; for in the place where he was killed by the pagans…infirm men and cattle are healed to this day. Whereupon many took up the very dust of the place where his body fell, and putting it into water did much good with it to their friends who were sick. This custom came so much into use, that the earth being carried away by degrees, there remained a hole as deep as the height of a man… Many miracles are said to have been wrought in that place, or with the earth carried from thence; but we have thought it sufficient to mention two, which we heard from our ancestors.””
Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
Recently a good turn of fortune has brought about the discovery of a number of previously unpublished manuscripts detailing a number of prehistoric remains, holy wells and old stone crosses that existed in and around east Lancashire, Burnley, Cliviger and Todmorden. Many of these papers are the all-but-lost writings of historian and antiquarian Clifford Byrne of Nelson. Having never previously been published, I think his works deserve greater attention and so I’ll be slowly, gradually, sticking them on the internet and give them the wider audience they deserve. Not all of his notions are necessarily accurate, but the extent of this mans local history knowledge on the sites he describes in his essays is considerable. The following is his short essay—with minimal editing—on this all-but-forgotten site:
“Shorey Well, or rather its stone housing, was originally situated in the bank of the River Brun slightly upstream of the parish church at Burnley, at a spot now within the grounds of the Burnley Technical College. From within the stone housing issued the spring proper, which then ran down the brookside into the river.
“From time immemorial until the late 19th century, Shorey Well supplied part of the town of Burnley with its drinking water, then the water was impounded into a pipe and the stone housing removed to a place of safety. This housing was thought by our Victorian forebears to have sufficient merit to save it for posterity, and this act I feel implies more than a certain interest in the old stones which I suggest the movers of the Well probably did not themselves fully understand, and it is with this concept that I hope now to deal.
“The present location of the stones of Shorey Well is in the little triangle of greenery outside Prestige Ltd at Burnley. This spot is bounded on Colne Road and Bank Parade. Behind it squats the base of Burnley Market Cross and the remains of the stocks with — a little to one side — the shaft of the Godley Lane Cross standing out of a huge square pedestal.
“An old map in Burnley Library shows Shorey Well in situ with a well-defined row of stepping stones crossing the river directly in front. This line of stones went to the site of a still existing property called Shorey Fold — a spot that was probably once called St. Audry’s Fold, as we shall see.
“Godly Lane Cross is an Anglo-Saxon monolith with a somewhat damaged head. This damage was probably done around the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, when the anti-Catholic movement was at its height. The name Godly implies a god-like, or god-inspired or religious tone to the area, and Godly Lane — now Ormerod Road — certainly lived up to its name for there stood the parish church, the Cross itself, the Market Cross, another cross dedicated to a priest in the 16th century and now standing in the rear of Townley Hall, “Foldy’s Cross”, with nearby Shorey Well.
“There is a strong possibility that the Godly Lane Cross — sometimes called the Paulinus Cross — was a preaching cross and that it also marked the way to Shorey Well which issued close by.
“No one to the knowledge of the writer has attempted to explain the name Shorey Well. I therefore suggest that the Well was used for baptism and that it was dedicated to St. Audry. The parish church was erected prior to the Reformation and thus certainly had its Holy Well close by, from which the priests obtained water for baptism and blessings, etc. Because of its propitious nature and close proximity to the church, such a Well would almost certainly have been the Shorey Spring.
“A study of the name may be fruitful. Holy wells are almost always dedicated to some christian saint. However, many of them have undergone a slight change in name over the centuries, so that it is not always easy to recognise the dedication. For instance, the Ransible Well near Colne was dedicated to Our Lady of Ransome, or the Virgin Mary; Stellern Well was dedicated to St. Helen; Maudlin Well near Lathom House was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen; Pewter Well at Sabden would be St. Peter’s Well; Mattus Well at Sawley Abbey is St. Matthew’s Well; whilst Cooks Well at Colne was surely dedicated to St. Luke the physician. Thus Shorey Well in the same context is almost certainly dedicated to St. Audry, and this saint we find was one of the most revered saints in Anglo-Saxon times, from which date the Godly Lane Cross stems.
“The close proximity of church, well and cross surely imply that one showed the way to the other, and that all three were at one period of time one unit: the Cross being a preaching place prior to the Church, and the holy well being a place of baptism and healing.”
Mr Byrne’s etymological reasoning may or may not be right here (Mr Ekwall says nothing in his place-name survey and I’m unaware of local dialect analysis that may account for the word), but the description of this and numerous other lost and forgotten sites in his various papers is hugely worthwhile and is a source of considerable study for us over the coming months.
Ormerod (1906) described the site in his tome, but even in his day this once great well with its “abundance of sparkling water” was “disused and neglected.” (the image above is taken from his work) However, as if to dispel any notions of an earlier saintly dedication, we find that in Walter Bennett’s (1948) magnum opus, the site had a more prosaic title in bygone years:
“Whittaker’s Well, or Shorey Well as it was later known, was situated on the riverbank opposite Dawson Square, and was apparently the only public source of drinking water for the inhabitants of tge Top o’ th’ Town.”
Bennett, Walter, The History of Burnley – volume 3, Burnley Corporation 1948.
Byrne, Clifford H., “A Short Study of Shorey Well, Burnley,” unpublished manuscript 1976.
From Heysham village centre by the little roundabout, go down the gorgeous olde-worlde Main Street for about 150 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the little track up to the tree-lined church of St. Peter. Just before going up the path to the church, set back at the roadside, you’ll see an old pump in an arch in the walling. That’s St. Patrick’s Well!
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with another St. Patrick’s Well a few miles north of here, little has been said of this old holy well in literary tomes (even Henry Taylor’s (1906) magnum opus missed it!) Sadly the waters here have long since been diverted (which violates religious tradition, quite frankly), and all we see today is an old iron water-pump set inside a stone arch, beneath which – I presume – the waters once ran. An old plaque on the site of this ancient well tells:
“This is one of two holy wells in Heysham village (the other, Sainty Well, is on private property and covered over), whose dedications are long since lost. Latterly the water from this well was used for utilitarian gardening purposes within the confines of the old rectory.
“Previously the well had fallen into disuse, suffered from surface contamination and became rubble-filled when the bank above gave way in the mid-1800s. In the early 1900s, the well-head was again rebuilt and the well itself was cleaned and made safe by capping with concrete. Recently (May 2002) the well-head has been refurbished and water artificially introduced, thus turning a derelict area into a feature of the village.”
It would be good if local people could complain to the regional water authority and make them redirect the waters beneath the well, back to the surface, to allow devotees — both Christian and otherwise — to partake of the holy blood sanctified by St. Patrick many centuries ago. And without fluoride or other unholy chemical compounds that desecrate our waters. Just the sacred waters of God’s Earth please!
This is one of the many places in the British Isles where St. Patrick was said to have landed after he’d converted all the Irish into the christian cult! One of the traditions was that St. Patrick said the well would never run dry — which was shown to be untrue when the waters were filled in with rubble in the 19th century. The same saint also used the waters from the well to baptise and convert the peasants of his time.
Quick, R.C., Morecambe and Heysham, Past and Present, Morecambe Times 1962.